Cruise, the daughter of General Motors specializing in autonomous vehicles, started offering a paid robotaxi service in San Francisco but now agreed to reduce its fleet by 50% while the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CDMV) is investigating some bizarre and dangerous incidents.
Just a few days ago, after months of debate, California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed robotaxi companies Waymo (owned by Google Alphabet) and Cruise to deploy paid taxi rides in San Francisco every day of the week, night and day. That’s a significant step for the robotaxi companies, but now voices are heard to force a ‘safety driver’ in driverless trucks for at least five years.
Hit by a firetruck
The DMV doesn’t specify which incidents it is investigating. Still, most likely, the straw that broke the camel’s back was one of its cars with one passenger (and no driver) aboard that ignored the sirens and flashing lights of an approaching firetruck and entered an intersection on the green light. The firetruck hit the Cruise robotaxi, and the passenger was (lightly) injured and rushed to the hospital.
Cruise’s general manager in San Francisco declared in a blog post about the preliminary analysis the firetruck was driving in the wrong lane to ‘bypass’ a red light, and several factors added complexity to this specific incident.
“The AV positively identified the emergency vehicle almost immediately as it came into view, consistent with our underlying safety design and expectation. It is worth noting, however, that the confines of this specific intersection make visual identification more challenging – for humans and AVs alike – as buildings significantly hide it, meaning that it is not possible to see objects around the corner until they are physically very close to the intersection.
The AV’s ability to successfully chart the emergency vehicle’s path was complicated because it was in the oncoming lane of traffic, which it had moved into to bypass the red light.
“In this instance, the AV identified the siren as soon as it was distinguishable from the background noise. The Cruise AV did identify the risk of a collision and initiated a braking maneuver, reducing its speed, but was ultimately unable to avoid the collision.”
Ten robotaxis blocking the intersection
The most bizarre incident occurred in San Francisco’s North Beach district. A video on social media showed ten Cruise robotaxis at night blocking an intersection for fifteen minutes, not knowing how to solve the traffic bottleneck they got into.
Cruise replied in a tweet the incident was likely due to cellphone networks that the cars rely on being disturbed by the sheer number of people leaving the Outside Lands music festival that night. But that, critics say, was several miles away.
Stuck in wet concrete
The funniest incident, just a day after the CPUC’s approval, was a Cruise robotaxi with no passengers ignoring the road construction signs and cones and workers with flags at each end of the block. The vehicle’s front wheels sunk into the wet concrete on Golden Gate Avenue, and the car got stuck.
The such-and-such incident is going viral on social media among skeptics of autonomous cars, as you can imagine. And it looks like some Californian state legislators are getting fed up with these increasing incidents and the current regulations, preparing a law requiring human safety drivers in driverless trucks for at least the next five years.